You just received an email that alarmed, amused or inspired you. You imme­di­ate­ly hit for­ward and enter the email address­es of every­body you know and hit send, right? No. Please. Think first.

If this email is a chain let­ter of some sort, send­ing it out prob­a­bly vio­lates the accept­able use pol­i­cy of your ISP or email provider. Is it worth los­ing your account? Think of that if noth­ing else.

If it’s one of those “inspi­ra­tional” pieces—come on, is it real­ly that good? And are the peo­ple to whom you’re send­ing it real­ly inter­est­ed in it? Hon­est­ly, most of that stuff is poor­ly writ­ten, over­ly sen­ti­men­tal non­sense (some­times referred to as “glurge”). I cer­tain­ly don’t need to see more of it. I know how to sub­scribe to mail­ing lists of inspi­ra­tional quotes, scrip­tures of var­i­ous faiths, and so on if I actu­al­ly feel a need for such things in my email. I actu­al­ly find some of those pieces high­ly offen­sive, and the peo­ple who send them know per­fect­ly well that I don’t share their beliefs — they just for­ward the mes­sages to every­one in their address books regard­less of whether that per­son does share their beliefs or not.

If it’s a crime warn­ing, it’s prob­a­bly a hoax. I haven’t seen any that weren’t hoax­es. If it’s one of the many pieces about how women should pro­tect them­selves against assault, I know I’ve seen them all at least a dozen times, and don’t need to read any of them again. Every­body has heard those tips many times, and some of them are just wrong any­way.

If it’s a virus warn­ing, read No Thanks, We’re Already Alert and fol­low the guide­lines there.

If it’s about a health issue, again — it might well be a hoax, or con­tain mis­in­for­ma­tion. Most that I’ve seen do. If you haven’t ver­i­fied that it comes from a rep­utable, pro­fes­sion­al source, delete it.

If it’s a polit­i­cal alert, again—does every­one to whom you’re send­ing it share your polit­i­cal views? And if they want to see arti­cles about Ashcroft or endan­gered species or prayer in schools, don’t you think they’ll just sub­scribe to mail­ing lists that exist to send out such alerts? And again, some of those mes­sages are hoax­es, out­dat­ed, or just plain use­less.

If it’s a mes­sage claim­ing that you’ll get some­thing for free just for send­ing out emails, it’s non­sense.

The most wide­spread virus on the inter­net is the gulli­bil­i­ty virus — okay, so it’s more of a meme. In any case, it’s a major nui­sance, and sucks up ridicu­lous amounts of time and ener­gy due to peo­ple for­ward­ing non­sense emails or wor­ry­ing about virus hoax­es. Those of us who are on many mail­ing lists or have many cor­re­spon­dents end up see­ing these stu­pid things umpteen times, and they get more annoy­ing every time they appear in our inbox­es. Please, stop. Now. Before you for­ward any­thing please ask your­self these ques­tions:

  1. How sure am I that this is true? Have I ver­i­fied it with a reli­able source? (Hear­ing about it on some radio or tele­vi­sion show does not count.) Go to some author­i­ty that you absolute­ly know to be trust­wor­thy and rel­e­vant to the sub­ject at hand. If it’s a med­ical alert sort of thing, check it through a med­ical pro­fes­sion­al or the web site for the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion or a sim­i­lar orga­ni­za­tion.
  2. Who wrote this thing? If it’s been for­ward­ed mul­ti­ple times, it’s high­ly unlike­ly that it’s true.
  3. Would you believe this infor­ma­tion if you saw it writ­ten on a bath­room wall? For­ward­ed emails have the same lev­el of cred­i­bil­i­ty.
  4. There are cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics shared among almost all email hoax­es. Exces­sive use of excla­ma­tion marks and delib­er­ate­ly alarm­ing lan­guage are just a few of them.
  5. The fact that some­thing has been stat­ed on a web site instead of in an email does not make it any more like­ly to be true. I could put up a web site in just a cou­ple of min­utes that stat­ed, in very author­i­ta­tive lan­guage, that spam­mers have caused the hole in the ozone lay­er. Check the sources.
  6. I don’t care if some­one else said he checked it out—you check it out. I don’t care if it’s from your moth­er, unless you know for a fact that it’s a sto­ry com­ing from her per­son­al, first-hand expe­ri­ence. I get urban leg­ends from my rel­a­tives all the time, and that doesn’t make me any more like­ly to believe them.

At the very least, take a minute and check with these sites that spe­cial­ize in debunk­ing hoax­es and urban leg­ends:

Even if it is true, most peo­ple who have been online long are like­ly to have seen it many times. They aren’t rely­ing on you for the news. You are not a wire ser­vice.

Despite the chain let­ter that’s being for­ward­ed all over the net right now that says oth­er­wise, chain let­ters and oth­er mass for­ward­ed emails don’t make any­one feel loved. If you want some­one to know that you’re think­ing about him, pick up the phone and call him, or send her a per­son­al email, or snail mail a card or let­ter. But don’t for­ward an email!

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished Feb­ru­ary 6, 2001